The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

If Benny jumps off a cliff, I jump too, Cranberry Babka

texasbakerdad's picture

If Benny jumps off a cliff, I jump too, Cranberry Babka

The photos of Benny's Babka had me salivating, so I had to try it out.

Most of this type of baking is new to me, I didn't know what to expect. In the end, I thought the process was very similar to sourdough cinnamon rolls, which I have only baked 2 or 3 times and I usually mess up because I make sweet breads so infrequently that I tend to forget my previous missteps and make the same mistakes each time. Hence, the value of my blog posts, I can reread how the bake went and not repeat the same mistakes again.

Anyway, back to the Babka. Lucky for me, Benny went first, I got to see his results in time to make changes to my process. I thought Benny's babka looked amazing on the exterior, the interior looked a bit wet and under baked. It was Benny's first attempt at a babka too. Also, one of the commenters on Benny's post said Babka's are supposed to have thinner layers.

So, basically I tried to follow Benny's recipe (which was inspired by Maurizio's recipe), with the following changes, regrets, notes:

  • I wanted the bake to be done in 1 day, so I skipped the overnight retard... barely pulled that off, I am 90% sure the extra day of bulk in the fridge would have benefited the dough, and I had to pay for my shortcut with dough that was extra sticky.
  • I did a 1 hour levain build instead of a 3 hour build. I ended up paying for this with a longer bulk and proof, but it was more convenient for me this way.
  • Benny used whole cranberries, I chopped mine up in a food processor. I was worried that the juices that pop/leak out of a whole cranberry might make the dough soggy, so I figured I could chop them up and ensure that didn't happen.
  • I cooked my loaf for 55min, because at 45 minutes my temp probe showed 180dF.
  • I used an aliquot jar with 20g of the dough to get a feel for how the rise was going.
  • I spreading the dough out to add the topping and roll it, I only used my hands and not a rolling pin hoping this would result in better crumb (I don't know if this helped).
  • In an effort to get thinner layers in the babka, instead of rolling the dough out to 10"x12" I stretched it as far as I could by hand and fingers, I probably ended up with 12"x18". And then, when I twisted everything together and shaped it, it was just to skinny and long for the pan, so I folded it in half end to end, made for an odd lumpy shape. I barely got thinner layers, truth is, the dough was too sticky and I really needed to stretch out the dough even more, and I probably should have rolled up the dough along the long side so I ended up with a 12" roll instead of an 18" roll.
  • My cranberry filling was too thick, made it too difficult to spread evenly and easily.
  • NOTE for the future: I didn't think the walnuts added anything positive to the flavor or texture and the cranberry filling was lacking something... maybe a more complex sugar taste... I dunno, but the filling flavor had room for improvement.
  • Probably because I didn't do an overnight retard, I think my dough would have benefitted significantly from some stretch and folds during bulk.
  • For convenience, I have been leaving my baking stone in the bottom rack of my oven instead of taking it out. I am convinced this is causing the bottom of my doughs to not cook as fast... I am kind of mad at myself for not realizing this sooner, because it impacted my last 5 bakes. This babka was no exception.
  • Benny's oven bloom was significantly more than mine. I either overproofed or the skipping of the overnight retard cost me, either way, it would have been cool to see the loaf with a more open crumb.


  • 310g AP
  • 109g Whole Milk
  • 90g Eggs
  • 100g Sliced Butter
  • 29g Table Sugar
  • 8g Salt
  • 138g Levian


  • 0:00: Mixed 70g of starter with 35g of AP and 35g of water
  • 1:00: Mixed levian, 310g AP, milk, eggs, 15g sugar, and 8g salt in ankersum to a shaggy mess, then waited 10 minutes to hydrate.
  • 1:10: At medium speed, run the ankersum for 5 minutes.
  • 1:15: With ankersum at medium speed, slowly added remaining 14g of sugar. Then added 100g of butter slices slowly waiting for the ankersum to pull each slight into the dough, until all slices added. Then mix for an additional 2-5 minutes until dough comes together.
  • 1:25: Transfer dough to a bowl and siphon off 20g into aliquot jar, cover bowl. Let dough bulk until aliquot shows 1.4x rise, that ended up being 7 hours for me.
  • 8:25: Move dough into fridge for 1 hour prior to the rolling step.
  • 9:25: Roll dough out to a 12"x18" square, spread top with cranberry topping and toasted and chopped walnuts, roll up, then stick in freezer for 15 minutes.
  • 9:40: Take out of freezer and put on well floured bench. Use dough knife to cut roll along its length. Pinch one end of dough together, use a little water on dough if they won't stick together when pinched. Then fold each end of dough on top of itself to make a twist, then pinch the other two ends together. Load loaf into pan lined with parchment, enough parchment sticking out to make handles.
  • 9:45: Cover and let proof until aliquot shows 3x rise or dough risen above bread pan by 1/2 inch. Took 4 hours for me.
  • 13:00: Preheated oven to 350dF
  • 13:45: Lightly brushed with egg wash mixture (1 egg, 1 TBS of water), loaded into oven on top of a cookie sheet in case some sugar/dough came down the sides of the pan. Baked for 55 minutes until temp probe in middle exceeded 200dF.
  • 14:40: Pull from oven, brush with copious amount of simple syrup and wait 10 minutes for it to absorb.
  • 14:50: Remove from pan and put on rack to cool, remove parchment too. Let cool until completely cooled... 2 hours? I went to sleep, so I waited about 6 hours.
  • 16:50: Loaf is ready.

Simple Syrup Recipe

In a small saucepan, mix 52g table sugar, and 59g water. Set heat to medium high or high, and stir until dissolved, then remove from heat.

Cranberry Orange Filling

  • 350g of cranberries chopped in food processor
  • 25g of water
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • Juice of 1 large orange
  • Zest of 1 large orange

Mix ingredients in large saucepan. Cook on higher stirring frequently. Keep cooking until temp sauce gets thick but not too thick, seems to be around the time that the mixture gets to a temp of 195dF.

The aliquot jar just before loading the loaf into the oven.

The dough right after shaping and loading into pan.


Benito's picture

Cute title, but hopefully you're not a lemming.  

You definitely got more layers!  It looks very nice, you're right the fillings needs a bit of something, I'm thinking cinnamon, allspice, ginger or cloves or a combination of some of those would make this better next time.

I suspect your shortening of the levain build time may have compromised the leavening ability of your levain and thus dough.  Remember that enriched dough do take longer to proof because of the added fat from butter, at least that is my understanding.

texasbakerdad's picture

"I suspect your shortening of the levain build time may have compromised the leavening ability of your levain and thus dough.  Remember that enriched dough do take longer to proof because of the added fat from butter, at least that is my understanding."
I ate my aliquot jar dough after I stuck the loaf in the oven. Missed opportunity, because had I not eaten it, I could have waited to see how high the aliquot would have risen before collapsing. I was worried I had overproofed the dough, but you are suggesting it was underproofed... maybe you are right. The aliquot was already just under 3x of the original volume.

You said in your recipe, that you waited until your dough was 1cm above the rim of the pan before loading into the oven. In your photos, it looks like your loaf got to 6cm over the top of the pan druing baking. If so, that is a huge oven bloom. Did you really get that much ovenbloom or am I missing something?

I ask, because I decided to go ahead and load my dough because some of the dough was already over 1cm above the rim... since my dough shaping was uneven, not all of the dough was 1cm over the rim, but I guessed that on average the dough was close to 1cm over the rim of the pan.

Benito's picture

I'm not sure that your dough was under proofed at all, it is very hard to tell from the photos of the crumb.  I wondered if it was dense or not.  Your point is well taken and I missed your point about your aliquot jar showing such a great rise.  I waited until most of the top of the dough was over the rim of the pan about 1 cm and then when baked it went crazy and grew to a lot more, I didn't measure the total growth above the rim.  It is certainly possible that my dough was a bit under proofed which could have lead to the crazy oven spring.  Now I'm no longer sure LOL.  The crumb of my babka wasn't wet or gummy so I didn't think it was under proofed.  Hopefully someone with more experience with enriched doughs will offer their opinions.

Sorry I'm not that helpful, I haven't made much enriched sourdough so I'm pretty new to this.  Don't follow me over the cliff please.


texasbakerdad's picture

"Now I'm no longer sure LOL."
That is just it with bread. I am never sure about anything. Sooo many variables. I am glad I am not the only one.

My crumb wasn't wet or gummy either. But I didn't get the amazing oven bloom. BUT, my dough was pretty lifeless during bulk, meaning it didn't want to hold a spherical shape, so I think that is probably why I didn't get as good of an oven bloom.

Also, I like lemmings :-) Your recipe definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone.

My personal opinion on my short levian. I think the only negative side effects of my shortened levian was an elongated bulk and proofing time, my understanding from reading and experience is that the 2 hours I didn't spend during levian build, would only mean I was 2 hours behind on microbial activity.  If it had been an 8 hour levian build, then the levian build would have also had the opportunity to impart more complex flavors and sourness, but I don't think that would be the case for a 3 hour levian build.

Said differently, in my opinion... you could do a 3 hour levian build, 5 hour bulk, 5 hour proof... or a 1 hour levian, 6 hour bulk, 6 hour proof... (both have 13 hour total ferment times) And no one would be able to tell the difference.

I guess you could say that the salt and sugar present in the 2 extra non levian hours would change the rise rates... but I think those changes would be minimal, wouldn't affect the flavor, and since I like to bake using feel and intuition, instead of the clock, I don't think I would have noticed.

Benito's picture

I totally agree with you on a short levain then catching up in bulk, but in my experience cutting levain build a couple of hours short I’d never catch up in 2 hour I think because of the exponential growth rate of the microbes but I could be wrong.  There is still too much about baking sourdough that I don’t know yet that’s for sure.

One other point with levain builds, for a fully fermented but short levain build vs a fully fermented but longer levain build, the one other factor to take into consideration would be the acid.  The larger inoculation of starter for a planned short levain build would impart more acid at the start compared with a planned long levain build using a lower inoculation of starter.  This can have good or bad effects depending on how acidic your starter is.  So for a rye starter that is quite acidic I might not want that much acid in my levain as that might have negative flavour results or even more proteolytic enzyme activity damaging the gluten.

I plan to try this again this weekend adding some spices to perk up the cranberry and also to roll this out better than my first try.  Hopefully it will be better because I’d like to gift this to my clinic on Monday.